7.05am GMT
07:05

That’s it from me, Helen Sullivan, for today. Thanks for following along.

Here is something totally pointless and joyful to cleanse your palate before the incredible Amelia Hill brings you more pandemic news.

will parry, bearer of the knife
(@faayza)

doomscrolling break:

this person trying to do an audition tape while their cat just wants attention pic.twitter.com/SC282aotCk

January 7, 2021

6.58am GMT
06:58

Australia has turned the screws on the Covid-19 super variant by reducing arrival caps, mandating masks and pre-departure tests for returning travellers, and requiring more regular testing for air crews and quarantine staff.

The measures were announced by Scott Morrison after national cabinet on Friday, as the Queensland government announced a three-day lockdown of Brisbane to deal with the first community case of the more infectious variant:

6.53am GMT
06:53

British consumers spent a record £9bn on entertainment last year as the pandemic fuelled a boom in the popularity of digital services such as Netflix, Amazon and Spotify while the public sought to alleviate lockdown boredom:

6.30am GMT
06:30

Summary

Here are the key developments from the last few hours:

The world’s poorest countries can expect to start receiving their first Covid-19 vaccine doses between the end of January and mid-February, the World Health Organization said Thursday. Vaccination is already under way in some of the world’s wealthiest nations, including the United States, Britain, European Union countries and Canada.
Brazil passed 200,000 deaths from the coronavirus pandemic Thursday. That is the second highest total in the world. The health ministry said the country had 1,524 deaths in the previous 24 hours, rising to a total of 200,498 for the pandemic.
Australian city enters lockdown after UK strain detected. Australia’s Queensland state enforced a three-day lockdown in the city of Brisbane from Friday evening, after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for the more contagious variant of Covid-19 that emerged in Britain last month.
Sinovac vaccine 78% effective in Brazil trial, experts call for more details. A coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech was 78% effective in a late-stage Brazilian trial with no severe Covid-19 cases, researchers said on Thursday, although a lack of data details stirred calls for more transparency.
Arrivals to UK will need to show a negative Covid test before entry. International travellers will need to show a negative Covid-19 test before being allowed into the UK, the government has announced, in a significant toughening of border controls to try to stem the spread of new coronavirus variants.
China reports 53 cases, down from day before as it seals city. The number of new Covid-19 cases reported in China’s Hebei province surrounding Beijing fell slightly from a day earlier, as authorities barred people in the provincial capital from leaving in order to curb the spread of the disease. China has sealed off Hebei’s Shijiazhuang, a city of several million in Hebei province whose surrounding areas take the total population to 11 million.
US faces deadly post-holiday phase of pandemic: Fauci. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, has warned the country faces the prospect of continued mass deaths from the Covid-19 crisis, predicting the situation there will worsen before it gets better. The US faced its deadliest month of the pandemic in December, and continues to post record death figures, including a record 3,854 deaths on 6 January alone.
Pfizer vaccine protects against new UK and South African strains – research. New research suggests that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa.

5.47am GMT
05:47

Pfizer vaccine protects against new UK and South African strains – research

New research suggests that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine can protect against a mutation found in two contagious variants of the coronavirus that erupted in Britain and South Africa, AP reports.

Those variants are causing global concern. They both share a common mutation called N501Y, a slight alteration on one spot of the spike protein that coats the virus. That change is believed to be the reason they can spread so easily.

Most of the vaccines being rolled out around the world train the body to recognize that spike protein and fight it. Pfizer teamed with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for laboratory tests to see if the mutation affected its vaccine’s ability to do so.

They used blood samples from 20 people who received the vaccine, made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, during a large study of the shots. Antibodies from those vaccine recipients successfully fended off the virus in lab dishes, according to the study posted late Thursday on an online site for researchers.

The study is preliminary and has not yet been reviewed by experts, a key step for medical research.

But “it was a very reassuring finding that at least this mutation, which was one of the ones people are most concerned about, does not seem to be a problem” for the vaccine, said Pfizer chief scientific officer Dr. Philip Dormitzer.

5.37am GMT
05:37

Chinese city sealed off to squash virus outbreak

More now on China sealing off a large city near Beijing, cutting transport links and banning millions of residents from leaving, as authorities move to stem the country’s largest Covid-19 outbreak in six months.

The pandemic has so far broadly been brought to heel by Chinese authorities since its emergence in Wuhan in late 2019, with small outbreaks swiftly snuffed out with mass testing, local lockdowns and travel restrictions.

Around 100 new Covid-19 cases have been discovered in the past week in Shijiazhuang, a city of several million in Hebei province whose surrounding areas take the total population to 11 million.

All vehicles and residents were banned from leaving the city and train services suspended, authorities announced late Thursday.

Police patrol n empty railway station in Shijiazhaung, in northern China’s Hebei province. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed residents being swabbed by medical workers in hazmat suits at community centres in Shijiazhuang while queues outside stretched around the block.

Virus control staff stood guard at highways entering the city, which had mostly been blocked by barricades, the images released on Thursday showed.

Hebei province reported 33 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Friday in addition to 51 from the day before – pushing the nationwide daily total to the highest figure in five months.

The vast majority of the infections were found in Shijiazhuang.

Footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed residents being swabbed by medical workers in hazmat suits at community centres in Shijiazhuang while queues outside stretched around the block.

Virus control staff stood guard at highways entering the city, which had mostly been blocked by barricades, the images released on Thursday showed.

Hebei province reported 33 new confirmed Covid-19 cases on Friday in addition to 51 from the day before – pushing the nationwide daily total to the highest figure in five months.

The vast majority of the infections were found in Shijiazhuang.

Updated
at 6.29am GMT

5.28am GMT
05:28

Hi, Helen Sullivan back with you now after blogging US politics for a while.

As always, you can find me on Twitter here if you have questions or comments or want to see some retweets of other people’s good jokes.

Updated
at 5.46am GMT

5.04am GMT
05:04

Asian shares rose to record highs on Friday, with Japan’s Nikkei hitting a three-decade peak, Reuters reports.

Investors are thought to be looking beyond the worsening Covid-19 disaster and political crisis in the United States, instead focussing on hopes for an economic recovery later in the year. Wall Street also hit record highs on Thursday.

James Tao, an analyst at CommSec in Sydney, told Reuters:

Market participants are fairly optimistic with how things are progressing, whether it’s in the political landscape, particularly of course in the United States the potential for more stimulus certainly is a boon to the economy. You’ve got the vaccines now coming through, getting the approvals – it’s all happening pretty quickly.

The buoyant mood lifted MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan up 1%, touching a record high.

Seoul’s Kospi led the way, charging 2.8% higher, also to a record high.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei added 1.73%, hitting its highest level since August 1990.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 1.2% despite reports the Trump administration was considering banning U.S. entities from investing in an expanded list of Chinese companies in the waning days of the presidency, and despite the delisting of major Chinese telecoms firms from FTSE Russell and MSCI indexes.

People walk past an electronic stock board showing Japan’s Nikkei 225 index at a securities firm in Tokyo Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Shares rose in Asia on Thursday after Wall Street rallied on expectations of more stimulus for the economy, despite chaotic scenes in Washington as Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

4.52am GMT
04:52

Staying in the United States, the worst hit area is currently Los Angeles. The Los Angeles county has recorded 852,165 confirmed cases and 11,328 deaths, according to the latest John Hopkins University data.

Now, the New York Times reports that the inundation of hospitals has prompted a memo to Los Angeles ambulance crews, instructing them not to transport most adult patients whose hearts had stopped beating to a hospital if resuscitation in the field was unsuccessful.

The memo was reportedly needed because of the “severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on E.M.S and 9-1-1 receiving hospitals”.

A patient is transported from an ambulance at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday. Photograph: Ringo Chiu/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Updated
at 5.00am GMT

4.34am GMT
04:34

US faces deadly post-holiday phase of pandemic: Fauci

Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, has warned the country faces the prospect of continued mass deaths from the Covid-19 crisis, predicting the situation there will worsen before it gets better.

The US faced its deadliest month of the pandemic in December, and continues to post record death figures, including a record 3,854 deaths on 6 January alone.

Fauci has told NPR that he believes the situation will deteriorate over the next couple of weeks, due to holiday travel and increased congregation.

We believe things will get worse as we get into January.

Hopefully, if we really accelerate our public health measures during that period of time, we’ll be able to blunt that acceleration. But that’s going to really require people concentrating very, very intensively on doing the kinds of public health measures that we talk about all the time. Now’s not the time to pull back on this.

Fauci, who said the US has little enthusiasm for a UK-style lockdown, said the US had fallen behind on its vaccine rollout during the holiday period.

I think it would be fair to just observe what happens in the next couple of weeks. If we don’t catch up on what the original goal was, then we really need to make some changes about what we’re doing.

The latest figures from John Hopkins University show the US has recorded 21,299,340 confirmed cases and 361,123 deaths, the highest of any country.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, prepares to receive his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Photograph: Patrick Semansky/AP

Updated
at 4.37am GMT

4.18am GMT
04:18

A study by the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc appears to show its vaccine is likely to be effective against a key mutation of the highly transmissible new variants discovered in the UK and South Africa, Reuters reports.

The study, conducted by Pfizer and the University of Texas, is not yet peer reviewed and its findings are limited, because it does not look at the full set of mutations found in either of the new variants of the rapidly spreading virus.

But Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists, said it was encouraging that the vaccine appeared to remain effective against the mutation, and a further 15 the company has previously tested against.

“So we’ve now tested 16 different mutations, and none of them have really had any significant impact. That’s the good news,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that the 17th won’t.”

A resident of Korian Les Amandiers EHPAD (Housing Establishment for Dependant Elderly People) in France receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

4.05am GMT
04:05

Speaking of vaccine hesitancy, Reuters is reporting that misinformation is contributing to lower turnouts for the Covid-19 vaccine among Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem Palestinians.

Israel launched a vaccine drive on December 19 and says about 17.5% of the population had already received the first jab.

But officials believe misinformation about side effects, largely drawn from social media, is playing a role in suppressing turnout.

Reuters
(@Reuters)

In what officials see as a result of misinformation about possible side effects or supposed malicious properties, turnout for COVID-19 vaccines has been low among Israeli Arabs and Jerusalem Palestinians https://t.co/5KPiUXQ42z pic.twitter.com/bB0L2g1PZZ

January 8, 2021

3.59am GMT
03:59

Experts are warning that a history of vaccine controversy in Japan may complicate the roll-out of the jab, AFP reports.

Japan is currently battling a severe third wave of infections, but Japan is yet to approve a single jab. Vaccinations are not scheduled to start before late February, at the earliest.

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga this week said he would be among the first to be vaccinated to boost confidence.

But AFP reports that only 60% of Japanese respondents to an Ipsos-World Economic Forum survey said they wanted the vaccine. That compares to 80% in China, 77% in the UK, and 75% in South Korea.

Another poll, by Japanese broadcaster NHK, showed just half of respondents want the vaccine, with 36 percent opposed.

“The reason why Japanese are hesitant, I think, is because there is a lack of trust in government information,” Harumi Gomi, professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases at the International University of Health and Welfare, told AFP.

Mistrust in Japan dates back decades, with experts pointing to a vicious cycle of lawsuits over alleged adverse events, media misinformation and government overreaction.

A station passageway is crowded with commuters wearing face mask during a rush hour Friday, Jan. 8, 2021 in Tokyo. Photograph: Eugene Hoshiko/AP

3.30am GMT
03:30

Hello everyone. It’s Christopher Knaus here, taking over from the indefatigable Helen Sullivan to take you through the latest global developments on Covid-19.

About an hour ago, Australia announced some major changes to its Covid-19 response. Australia’s federal and state governments met this morning to consider the threat posed by the highly transmissible UK strain.

They emerged with a new model for dealing with international and domestic air travel. All inbound international travellers to Australia must now record a negative test to Covid-19 prior to departure, with some exceptions.

Masks will also be mandatory on all international and domestic flights and in domestic airports. Masks will be recommended in international airports.

International air crew will also be required to undergo a Covid-19 test in Australia every seven days or on arrival. Crews must also quarantine in dedicated facilities between international flights or for 14 days; and

The Australian government is also halving the cap on international arrivals into some states until mid-February.

3.14am GMT
03:14

An update now from Taiwan, which has managed to maintain its early successful response, and daily life is largely normal.

Through a combination of early border restrictions, a well-established health and disease control infrastructure, quarantine and mandatory masks, being an island, and some sheer luck, it has recorded just seven Covid-19 deaths since the virus emerged. Of its total 822 cases, the vast majority have been found in returning travellers in hotel quarantine.

A couple eat behind a plastic shield to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at a market in Taipei, Taiwan, 6 January 2021. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

Until a pilot passed the virus on to his friend in Taipei – and only his friend – last month, Taiwan hadn’t seen a local case since April last year. Authorities fined the pilot the maximum penalty for failing to provide detailed and accurate information, after he was found to have traveled while infectious without disclosing his symptoms or movements.

Mandatory mask wearing had been expanded to most public places, ahead of the flu season, and in the new year border restrictions were tightened again in response to the emergence of the UK strain.

2.40am GMT
02:40

In the UK, problems with the coronavirus vaccine rollout to GPs were laid bare after it emerged that a surgery visited by health secretary Matt Hancock to promote the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab had not yet received any supplies when the health secretary was there.

On Thursday morning Hancock said doses of the vaccine were being supplied to GP practices across the country as he visited the Bloomsbury surgery in central London. However, he conceded the “rate-limiting” factor in efforts to get people vaccinated was supply from the manufacturers.

2.32am GMT
02:32

China reports 53 cases, down from day before

The number of new Covid-19 cases reported in China’s Hebei province surrounding Beijing fell slightly from a day earlier, as authorities barred people in the provincial capital from leaving in order to curb the spread of the disease.

Hebei accounted for 33 of the 37 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases reported on Jan. 7, according to a statement by the National Health Commision, down from 51 a day earlier. The total number of cases in all of mainland China fell to 53 from 63 a day earlier.

The province’s capital, Shijiazhuang, which accounted for all but two of the new Hebei cases, banned people from leaving the city on Thursday in an escalation of travel curbs. The city of 11 million has also banned gatherings and ordered vehicles and people in high-risk Covid-19 areas to remain in their districts.

Nucleic acid testing in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China. 6 Jan 2021 Photograph: Top Photo Corporation/REX/Shutterstock

Though the number of new cases remains a small fraction of what China saw early last year at the height of the outbreak, which first emerged from the central city of Wuhan in late 2019, authorities have taken aggressive measures whenever new clusters emerge.

Shijiazhuang also accounted for 35 of the 57 new asymptomatic cases reported in the mainland. China does not classify these patients, who have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the disease but are not yet showing any Covid-19 symptoms, as confirmed cases.

Total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases to date in mainland China now stands at 87,331, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.





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